December 13, 2009

This Gonna be Good!

Yes, I've been wanting to see The Princess and the Frog not just because it's the first African-American Disney heroine, but also because it's a good old-fashioned hand-drawn musical cartoon. And Lynn articulated my first thought after the film ended (to audience applause): "I'm getting the DVD."

Anika Noni Rose is Tiana, our strong, smart and hard-working protagonist. She aims to fulfill her father's (Terrence Howard) dream of opening up a restaurant in jazz era New Orleans. Her mother Eudora (Oprah Winfrey) works for Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman). His daughter Charlotte has her own dream of finding her prince. It was refreshing to see the two girls grow up to be friends, equals despite different social standings. We tend to see blonde rich girls portrayed as spoiled and unkind in movies. Lottie is never mean. And as voiced by the talented Jennifer Cody, she is a riot. Watch out for the scene at Duke's Cafe and see if you can keep up with her. (And also to see if you can get over your craving for beignets by the end of the film.)

The handsome but arrogant Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) arrives in the Crescent City with his not-so-faithful companion Lawrence. Through a frightening encounter with the voodoo man Dr. Facilier (an unnerving and creepy Keith David), the prince becomes a frog. Tiana herself gets turned into a frog when she tried to help him. To break the spell, they must see the "blind voodoo lady who lives in a boat in a tree in the bayou", the very funny Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). They are aided in their quest by yet another pair of unlikely companions: Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley), an alligator who just wants to play jazz; and Ray (Jim Cummings), a lovestruck Cajun firefly.

Randy Newman's jazzy, toe-tapping music score had good songs, but none that really stuck in my head by the end. Aside from the great story-telling, laugh-out-loud lines, sentimental moments, wondrous singing and memorable characters, what really made the movie for me was the traditional animation. There's nothing like 2D animation to convey emotions and ambience. I never thought one could be visually hungry, but I couldn't get enough of the beautiful artwork. I just wanted my eyes to linger on specific scenes and take in all the colors and subtleties.

Bravo to the House of Mouse for going back to its roots. The Princess and the Frog not only gave us the first black Disney heroine, but a classic yet original and creative re-telling of an old fairy tale. And instead of the vapid Disney Channel girls, how about more Tianas?

(photo from Imp Awards)

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